Researchers in Germany have collected and analyzed 388 open-source projects in the energy sector in an overview of the current state of the open-source software landscape.
The researchers from the Institute for Automation of Complex Power Systems at RWTH Aachen University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology looked at open source energy project activities, community composition, relevant licenses, and commonly used programming languages used in the energy sector.
Fast digitalization of the power grids and the adoption of innovative software solutions is key to a successful energy transition. In other sectors, such as telecommunication or cloud computing, open-source software has already proven capable of transforming entire industries, by speeding up development and lowering development costs while achieving high levels of stability, interoperability, and security.
However, the energy sector has not yet fully embraced open-source software, due to the momentum of established software products that arose in the era of centralized grids, when collaboration and interoperability were of less importance than they are now. Furthermore, due to the safety criticality of many products in the energy sector, the field is very conservative, thus resisting fast change. Concerns about security and losing competitive advantage lead to stakeholders being opposed to publishing any data connected to their infrastructure.
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The researchers found that the majority of projects are currently driven by academic contributors, but that commercial players do also play a role, and they identify positive examples of collaboration between the two, mostly related to standardization.
The analysis shows a growing momentum for open-source software in the energy sector in recent years. Most of the projects were compliant with good practices for licenses, and that Python was by far the most relevant programming language.
However, collaboration between industry and academia should be fostered, as the majority of projects are still driven by academia. A more in-depth analysis of the community compositions revealed little overlap between communities of industry-driven projects and those of projects originating from academia. They suggest continuing and strengthening existing incentives for open-source activities, while motivating industry to move towards open source by showcasing success stories.
The use of an open-source license can massively increase the adoption, use, and re-use of software, allowing developers to focus on the implementation of core features instead of duplicating many software components. The resulting reduction of development resources can then lead to speeding-up of the innovation process, faster time to market, and reduced R&D costs. Other benefits claimed for open-source software are the minimization of the risk of market domination by single vendors or of limitation to certain geographical regions.
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New power grid architectures demand full digitalization of operation, including system management, energy trading, sector coupling, and network planning. Furthermore, digital technologies, such as smart charging, demand-side management, or grid-aware consumers, offer great potential for increased efficiency and savings.
The datasets are at https://git.rwth-aachen.de/acs/public/publications/2023-oss-in-energy-data/.